Cal Football: Four Takes on Golden Bears' History in the NFL Draft

With the 2021 Event A Week Away, We Look Back at Cal's Draft-Day Legacy
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The NFL draft begins a week from Thursday and two former Cal players are expected to be selected.

Neither cornerback Camryn Bynum nor offensive lineman Jake Curhan figures to go early, but the Golden Bears have a significant place in the history of the draft.

We found four stories ranking the top picks historically in the NFL draft that provide an insight into where Cal fits in that history.

Here goes:

*** CBS Sports ranks every No. 1 pick in the 21st Century: There are 21 of them and former Cal quarterback Jared Goff is in that exclusive company after being taken first overall in 2016 by the Los Angeles Rams.

Where does CBS believe Goff ranks among those 21 picks?

They put him at No. 9, which actually makes him the No. 8 quarterback taken in the top slot this century. Here’s their analysis of Goff:

Goff has developed into a quality franchise quarterback for a perennially contending team. After enduing a rocky rookie season that saw him fail to win any of his seven starts, Goff flourished Sean McVay, who joined the Rams prior to Goff's second season. During his second and third seasons, Goff completed nearly 64% of his passes while averaging 4,246 passing yards per season. He also threw 60 touchdowns against just 19 interceptions while posting a 26-9 record as a starter. Goff's performance during the 2018 playoffs helped the Rams advance to Super Bowl LIII, where they managed to score just three points in a loss to the Patriots.

Despite helping lead the Rams to the playoffs in 2020, Los Angeles traded Goff to the Lions (in exchange for Stafford and several draft picks) this offseason. How well Goff does in his new surroundings will determine if Goff can move further up this list.

The top seven No. 1 picks this century are quarterbacks, according to CBS Sports. Topping the list is former Ole Miss star Eli Manning, who went No. 1 to the San Diego Chargers in 2004. Manning had made it clear to San Diego he did not want to play there, so the Chargers orchestrated a trade to the New York Giants.

A total of 15 quarterbacks were chosen No. 1 in the 21st century. Here’s the top-7 — all quarterbacks — according to CBS:

1. Eli Manning, Ole Miss, 2004

2. Cam Newton, Auburn, 2011

3. Carson Palmer, USC, 2003

4. Andrew Luck, Stanford, 2012

5. Michael Vick, Virginia Tech, 2001

6. Alex Smith, Utah, 2005

7. Matthew Stafford, Georgia, 2009

Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez

Tony Gonzalez

*** College Football News Ranks the 32 All-Time Greatest Draft Picks: This is an interesting list, which excludes top-5 picks in each drat, presumably because they are expected to approach greatness.

This list grades picks that were slightly less sure things and ranks players who meet the follow four criteria:

— Must be a Hall of Famer or a sure-fire future Hall member

— Must be a five-time All-Pro selection (or in the case of quarterbacks, must be at least a two-time All-Pro or have a Super Bowl victory)

— The player must develop his Hall of Fame credentials for the team that drafted him

Given those parameters, two Cal players — one current, one retired — make the College Football news list.

At No. 24 is tight end Tony Gonzalez, chosen 13th in the first round in 1997 by the Kansas City Chiefs. Here’s what CFN wrote about Gonzalez:

You had a pretty good career when Jerry Rice is the only guy who caught more passes. The 14-time Pro Bowl and six-time All-Pro Hall of Famer came up with a few amazing years with Atlanta – he didn’t fade or slip a bit, even into his late 30s – finishing with 1,325 catches for 15,127 yards and 111 touchdowns. The only reason he’s not higher – along with being a 13th pick – was because his last five seasons were with the Falcons.

At No. 22 is quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who went with the 24th pick of the 2005 draft by the Green Bay Packers. CFN’s remarks on Rodgers:

Remember, it’s hard for a quarterback to be named First Team All-Pro. Rogers is a three-time NFL MVP, and he’s just a three-time All-Pro. However, he’s an eight-time Pro Bowl producer with a Super Bowl win and close to 43,000 yards with 338 touchdowns.

Here’s how College Football News ranked the top-5:

1. Tom Brady, Michigan, 2000

2. Jerry Rice, Mississippi Valley State, 1985

3. Deacon Jones, Mississippi Valley State, 1961

4. Joe Montana, Notre Dame, 1979

5. Ray Lewis, Miami, 1996

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers

*** CBS Sports ranks the best 5 picks at each 1st-round draft position: This list still is being unveiled, one day at a time, but already six Cal players have made the cut.

No. 24 pick of the 1st round: Aaron Rodgers was judged the best-ever selection at this spot, which is hardly surprising given how many foolish teams passed on a player considered a possible No. 1 overall pick. Defensive end Cameron Jordan of Cal is rated fifth-best here.

No. 21 pick of the 1st round: Center Alex Mack lands the fifth spot in this group, headed by wide receiver Randy Moss.

No. 15 pick of the first round: Defensive back Deltha O’Neal secures the fifth spot here. Topping the 15th picks is defensive lineman Alan Page.

No. 12 pick of the first round: Marshawn Lynch was picked fifth, which seems a little low to us. At the top of the No. 12 picks is long-ago Packers defensive back Herb Adderley.

*** NFL.com rates every No. 1 pick in the common draft era: This list ranks the 52 players chosen first since 1967 after the NFL-AFL merger. The article was published prior to the 2019 draft, meaning that top picks Kyler Murray (2019) and Joe Burrow (2020) aren’t represented here. But they don’t have a real body of work yet, anyway.

Two Cal QBs have gone No. 1 overall, starting with . . .

No. 18 Steve Bartkowski, QB, Cal to Atlanta Falcons, 1975. Here’s how NFL.com evaluated its choice as the 18th-best No. 1 pick:

Bartkowski played 11 seasons in Atlanta, taking the Falcons to the playoffs three times. His finest campaign came in 1980 when he led the NFL with 31 touchdown passes. He also paced all passers with a sterling 97.6 passer rating in 1983. Bad knees, not an inability to play quarterback, shortened Bartkowski’s career.

33. Jared Goff, QB, Cal to Los Angeles Rams, 2016. Would be interesting to know where NFL.com would rate Goff two years after this was written. We’re guessing his status has dropped a bit, but he’s getting a fresh start in Detroit and he’s still just 26. The analysis:

Goff more than displayed his long-term potential in 2017 by leading the Rams to the playoffs, or at least becoming a major part of the equation. He tossed 28 touchdown passes against seven interceptions while pacing the entire league in yards per completion at 12.9. In Year 3, Goff equaled that sterling yards-per-completion figure, threw for more yards and more touchdowns, completed a higher percentage of passes and helped lead the Rams to the Super Bowl.

Cover photo of Jared Goff by Kirby Lee, USA Today

Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo